In honor of “Macho Man” Randy Savage being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, here is a look back at his career in Japan. Unlike many other wrestlers, Savage did not go to Japan early in his career and he was already an international star before his first match there. In fact, his first match in Japan took place at the Tokyo Dome on a joint event between the WWF, New Japan, and All Japan. Savage also had a few matches in Japan after he joined WCW, with his last match taking place in 2000 at the Tokyo Dome. All of Savage’s matches in Japan were while he was under contract with WWF or WCW. Below I have reviewed some of his matches in Japan, highlighting his best moments.
Randy Savage started his wrestling career in the mid-70s, working for his father in International Championship Wrestling before moving on to Memphis. Savage’s path took him all across the United States and into Puerto Rico, but never to Japan, as he was committed to wrestling in the Memphis area. In 1985 he joined the WWF, and while it would seem that would lessen his chances of wrestling in Japan it actually increased it as the WWF began working with Japanese promotions in 1990. First, there was a joint event at the Tokyo Dome in 1990, where Savage would be one of the main attractions on the card.
Randy Savage vs. Genichiro Tenryu: This match took place on April 13th, 1990 at the WWF/All Japan/New Japan Wrestling Summit. After dancing around a bit they tie-up, Tenryu goes for a vertical suplex, Savage lands on his feet, but Tenryu assaults him with a variety of chops and punches much to the crowd’s delight. Savage finally falls down in the corner, and as Sherri distracts Tenryu he is hit from behind by Savage. Savage chokes on Tenryu with the help of the bottom rope and punches him right in the face. Irish whip by Savage, reversed, and Tenryu hits him with a vicious lariat. Irish whip by Tenryu, he goes for a back bodydrop, but Savage kicks him in the head when he puts it down. Savage charges Tenryu, but Tenryu bodydrops him over the top rope and then hits a crossbody from the apron down on Savage. Sherri hits Tenryu from behind when he gets up, which allows Savage time to hit him from behind. Savage tosses Tenryu over the guardrail and battles with him at ringside. Finally he brings him back to the ring and delivers a series of punches. Irish whip from the corner, but Tenryu gets his foot up when Savage charges and then hits an enzigieri. Savage fires back with a clothesline, cover, but Tenryu kicks out. Mounted punches by Savage and he pushes down the referee since he had tried to stop him. Cover by Savage, but it only gets a two count. More choking by Savage, Irish whip, and he hits the clothesline. Cover again, but again it only gets two. Another Irish whip by Savage, Tenryu gets caught in the ropes, but Savage clotheslines him anyway. Savage chokes on Tenryu while he is down as Sherri gets in another cheap shot as well.
Tenryu rolls to the outside, so Savage comes off the top turnbuckle with an ax handle. Savage drops an elbow while on the outside and as he gets back in the ring, Sherri hits Tenryu with her shoe. Savage goes back out to get Tenryu (as Sherri hits him again) and finally tosses him back into the ring. Savage goes up top and hits another ax handle. Cover, but Tenryu kicks out at two. Scoop slam by Savage and he hits a knee drop. Cover, but it only gets a one count. Savage ascends to the top turnbuckle and nails his big elbow drop, cover, but Mr. Puroresu manages to kick out. Eye rake by Savage, he goes up top again, but this time he gets punched in the stomach when he jumps off. Tenryu goes for a powerbomb, but Savage back bodydrops him to get out of it. Savage goes up top once again and this time hits a flying crossbody. He comes up lame however following the move, allowing Tenryu to nail him with an enzigieri and finish him off with a powerbomb. Shorter then I would have liked, but a very good match. Tenryu is simply incredible, and the crowd ate up everything that he did. Savage took it all from Tenryu, including the stiff chops and the clotheslines. I could have done without the constant interference from Sherri, but obviously the storyline here was that Savage knew he had no chance of defeating Tenryu himself and was trying to get all the help he could get. Especially considering that it is unlikely they had a lot of practice with each other in the ring, the match was about as good as one could hope for. ***1/2
Savage’s work in Japan wouldn’t stop there, as the following year the WWF entered into a working agreement with new puroresu promotion Super World Sports. The big star of SWS was Genichiro Tenryu, and since Savage was a big international star himself, Tenryu was involved in most of Savage’s matches in the promotion. In fact, his first match would be a re-match from the Summit a year earlier.
Randy Savage vs. Genichiro Tenryu: This match took place on April 1st, 1991 in SWS. Stalling to start, mostly on Savage’s part, but finally they get started and jockey around in the ropes. Savage bails again (good thing this wasn’t the main event) but does return after a moment and he pushes Tenryu into the corner. Savage throws Tenryu out of the ring but Tenryu quickly rolls back in and hits a lariat for two. Savage leaves the ring to re-group, but back in Savage rakes Tenryu in the eyes and throws Tenryu out of the ring. Savage goes up to the top turnbuckle and hits an ax handle down to the floor. I still think Savage doing that move on a regular basis is absolutely nuts, no idea how his knees never gave out on him. Back in the ring Savage rubs Tenryu’s face against the ropes. Savage elbows Tenryu in the throat, he goes up top and he hits the diving elbow drop. Savage applies a sleeper but Tenryu gets to the ropes. Irish whip by Savage but Tenryu reverses it and hits a chop. Tenryu charges Savage in the corner but Savage knees him back. Savage goes for a back bodydrop but Tenryu grabs him and hits a powerbomb. Enzigieri by Tenryu and he hits a scoop slam. Tenryu goes up top and hits a diving elbow drop for two. He hits a second one and he covers Savage for two. Tenryu chops Savage but Savage rams him into the turnbuckles. Back up Tenryu goes for a backdrop suplex but Savage lands on top of him. Scoop slam by Savage, he goes up top and nails a diving elbow drop. He goes up and hits another one, cover, but Tenryu kicks out. Savage punches Tenryu and throws him out of the ring. Savage goes up and hits another diving double ax handle to the floor. Savage is just doing his big moves over and over. Savage drops Tenryu on the top rope and covers for two. Jumping kick by Tenryu and he goes for a powerbomb, but Savage back bodydrops out of it. Tenryu picks up Savage, he hits a sloppy low impact powerbomb and picks up the three count. I really couldn’t get into it, I mean Savage hit two diving ax handles to the floor and THREE diving elbow drops, but Tenryu wins after hitting a couple moves. Tenryu is beloved by many for a good reason as he is great but his powerbomb can be quite gentle and I wish Savage had been worn down first to justify it picking up the win. A disappointing match between two legends even though the crowd loved it. **
Tag Team Gauntlet – Randy Savage and Tenryu, Ishikawa and Great Kabuki, Haku and Yatsu, Power And Glory, and The Rockers: Genichiro Tenryu and Randy Savage are the second team in the match, facing Roma and Hercules. Roma and Tenryu start the match but Roma cold cocks Tenryu and Hercules comes in to help on the stomping. Roma drops an elbow on Tenryu and he tags in Hercules. Hercules dumps Tenryu out of the ring and he hits a lariat. Savage comes over to help, so Roma gets Tenryu back in the ring. Hercules punches Tenryu against the ropes and Hercules hits a lariat. Hercules puts Tenryu in the neck crank and he tags in Roma. Roma and Tenryu trade punches and chops and Hercules hits a powerslam on Tenryu. Roma jumps off the top turnbuckle but Tenryu punches him in the stomach and makes the tag to Savage. Unfortunately the referee missed the tag (the tag rules have been really loose in SWS but not right now apparently), and Savage has to leave the ring. Roma and Hercules stomp on Tenryu but Savage snaps Roma’s neck over the top rope. Savage is hit with an assisted lariat but Tenryu hits an enzigieri on Hercules. Roma comes back in to help and he puts Tenryu in the Argentine Backbreaker. Savage goes up top and hits Hercules to break it up, then Tenryu hits Hercules with an enzigieri. Tenryu hits another one and he hits a powerbomb. Diving elbow drop by Savage, cover by Tenryu and they pick up the three count. Power and Glory are eliminated!
King Haku and Yoshiaki Yatsu are the next team down. They brawl to start the match outside the ring, with Tenryu and Yatsu eventually getting in. Savage and Haku start off and Haku chops Savage. Haku holds Savage and Yatsu kicks Savage in the chest. Backdrop suplex by Yatsu but Savage knees him and tags in Tenryu. Tenryu hits an enzigieri to Yatsu and covers him for a two count. Yatsu kicks Tenryu back into the corner and tags in Haku. Lariat by Haku to Tenryu and he hits two more for a two count cover. Haku tags in Yatsu and Yatsu hits a vertical suplex on two. Yatsu knees Tenryu and he tags in Haku. Headbutts by Haku but Savage runs in and throws Haku out of the ring before hitting a double ax handle down onto him. Back in the ring Savage knees Haku in the back but Haku manages to tag in Yatsu. Yatsu elbows Savage in the back of the head and hits an elbow smash. Yatsu tags in Haku and Haku hits Savage with a lariat. Haku tags in Yatsu and Yatsu hits a backdrop suplex to Savage. Yatsu goes up top but Savage avoids the diving elbow drop. Yatsu tags in Haku but Savage throws him to the mat and tags in Tenryu. Tenryu chops Haku back but Yatsu tags himself in. Enzigieri by Tenryu to Yatsu and Tenryu hits a lariat. Haku knees Tenryu from the apron and Yatsu hits a German suplex hold for a two count. Enzigieri by Tenryu and he hits a scoop slam. Diving elbow drop attempt by Tenryu but Yatsu rolls out of the way. Haku lariats Tenryu from the apron and Yatsu hits a German suplex hold, but Savage breaks it up. Savage takes Haku outside the ring and they brawl, while in the ring Yatsu drops Tenryu with a powerbomb for the three count pinfall. Savage and Tenryu are eliminated! Kabuki and Ishikawa go on to win the match. That was a doozy of a match as really it was like four mini-matches. I really enjoyed it, Haku continues to impress and I love the Savage and Tenryu team. My main complaint is that the ‘new’ tag team won every time so it was a bit predictable, but otherwise it was a fun way to spend 30 minutes even if each segment was a bit too short to really go all out. ****
Even though SWS would continue to have shows, this was the last event that Savage participated on. Perhaps due to money issues or something with the agreement, WWF eventually stopped sending over their marquee wrestlers to supplement SWS which meant no more Savage as even though he was no longer a main eventer in WWF he was still one of their most recognizable faces. Savage would not return to Japan until 1996, when he was under contract with WCW. WCW had a working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling from the mid-90s onward, and that agreement often led to random WCW wrestlers appearing on New Japan cards. In 1996, Savage had three matches in New Japan, including matches against the legendary Ric Flair and Jushin Thunder Liger.
Randy Savage vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan: This match took place on April 29th, 1996 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They take it to the mat almost immediately but Tenzan drives Savage back into the corner. Knee by Savage but Tenzan rakes him in the eyes. Mongolian Chops by Tenzan and he hits a heel kick. Chinlock by Tenzan but Savage rakes him in the eyes. Savage charges Tenzan but Tenzan back bodydrops him all the way over the top rope to the floor. Savage quickly recovers as they return to the ring, scoop slam by Savage but Tenzan avoids the diving elbow drop. Tenzan applies a reverse chinlock but Savage dumps him out of the ring. Savage jumps off the top turnbuckle to the floor but Tenzan punches him in the stomach on his way down and throws Savage over the guard rail. Back in the ring Tenzan hits a snap vertical suplex followed by the Mountain Bomb for a two count cover. Tenzan goes to the second turnbuckle and he hits a diving leg drop for another two count.
Scoop slam by Tenzan, he goes up top again and he nails the diving headbutt. Another slam by Tenzan but Savage rolls out of the way of the moonsault attempt. Savage goes on the top turnbuckle and he delivers the diving elbow drop, but Tenzan kicks out of the pin. Savage goes up once again and hits another one. A THIRD diving elbow drop by Savage, he picks up Tenzan and he applies an inside cradle for the three count. What a weird ending. Super weird, like all I can think about now is Savage hitting three diving elbow drops and then slapping on an inside cradle. The guy is already on his back, just cover him. Aside from whatever that was it was an odd match anyway, Tenzan was hitting Savage with everything but I guess due to time constraints there was no attempt at long term selling whatsoever. I can’t say it was a good match since it felt really rushed but the action itself was solid, Savage is nuts. **1/4
Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair: This match took place on July 16th, 1996 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. They trade holds to start and then they trade punches, but Flair gets Savage into the corner. Eye rake by Savage and he applies a backslide for a two count. Chops to the chest by Flair and he covers Savage for two. Flair tosses Savage out of the ring and chops him before sliding Savage back in. Punches by Savage, he throws Flair in the corner and hits a back bodydrop. Scoop slam by Savage and he punches Flair in the corner. Atomic drop by Flair and he hits a knee drop. Savage dumps Flair out of the ring and slams his head into the guardrail, and they trade strikes on the floor. Back in the ring, Irish whip by Savage but Flair elbows him to the mat. Flair slides out of the ring and with Savage’s head over the apron he hits a few elbows. Back in the ring they trade strikes and Flair flops to the mat. Flair recovers and hits a backdrop suplex and he covers Savage for a two count.
Vertical suplex by Flair but Savage punches him and they trade strikes. Punches by Savage, Flair flips himself onto the apron and Savage hits a lariat. Savage goes up top and hits a double ax handle, and Flair bails out of the ring. Savage of course gets on the top turnbuckle and dives out onto Flair with a double ax handle, hurting his knee in the process. Flair rolls back in with Savage slowly following and Flair kicks Savage in the leg. Flair goes for the figure four but Savage rolls him up for two. Flair goes up top but Savage grabs him and throws Flair off. Savage now goes up top but Flair rolls out of the way of the diving elbow drop. Flair grabs Savage, he slaps on the figure four leglock and Savage has no choice but to submit. This was a dumbed down Flair match, but it was on the mid-card so they did a match appropriate in relation to where they were on the card. Savage ‘hurting’ his knee on the dive was a cheap out but a logical one since at his age he really shouldn’t be doing that move (he never stopped doing it) and Flair targets the leg anyway. A good match but nothing special. ***
Randy Savage vs. Jushin Thunder Liger: This match took place on July 17th, 1996 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Savage is still selling the knee injury from yesterday because he is a professional. They jockey around on the mat to start but Savage bails out to the ramp. Back in, shoulderblock by Liger and he hits the Abisegeri. Dropkick by Liger, Savage falls out of the ring and Liger does a fake dive before posing. Back in the ring Liger stomps on Savage’s injured leg and elbows it before applying a kneelock. Savage gets to the ropes to break the hold and Savage dumps Liger out of the ring, hitting the camera man in the process. Savage punches Liger around the ring but Liger kicks him in the leg and hits a kneebreaker onto the guardrail. Savage makes his way back to the ring again, and Liger kicks Savage in the knee. Liger rams Savage’s leg into the ring post and applies the figure four leglock, but Savage is too close to the ropes and forces a break. Scoop slam by Liger, he goes up top and he hits a diving body press for a two count. Liger puts Savage up on the top turnbuckle and joins him, but Savage pushes him off.
Savage hits an ax handle off the top turnbuckle, he goes up top again but Liger avoids the diving elbow drop. Powerbomb by Liger, he picks up Savage and hits the Liger Bomb for a two count. Liger picks up Savage and delivers the Fisherman Buster, but again Savage kicks out. Liger applies a waistlock, Savage gets out of it but Liger delivers a Shotei for two. Liger goes off the ropes but Savage levels him with a lariat. Savage goes up to the turnbuckle and he nails the diving elbow drop for the three count victory. Liger was held back here due to the Heavyweight vs. Jr. Heavyweight thing (in the 90s, New Japan Jr. Heavyweights didn’t beat Heavyweights, there was a barrier there), but Savage sure did give him a ton of offense. Liger had every chance to shine and he took it, from hitting all his big moves to doing the funny pose while Savage was writhing in pain. I wish Liger had been tougher to pin but again this was a mid-card match so there were time issues. I loved Liger going for Savage’s leg that Flair had hurt the day prior and going for the figure four, great psychology there from two of the best. Wish it was longer but it was a lot of fun. ***1/2
After that run in New Japan, Savage would not return for over three years. His last appearance was his most unusual, as he had not been used in WCW since the spring of 1999 when he was suddenly announced for the New Japan Tokyo Dome on January 4th, 2000 against Rick Steiner. It was an unexpected announcement to say the least, as it was the only WCW match on the card and there was no real backstory as to why the two were fighting since Savage had been out of WCW for so long. The fans were familiar with both wrestlers and no doubt it was billed as a special attraction type match, but who thought it up and how it happened is a mystery.
Randy Savage vs. Rick Steiner: This match took place on January 4th, 2000 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. We don’t know why this match took place as both were contracted with WCW and no other WCW matches were on the card, but here we are. They tie-up to start but Savage plays to the ground. Savage gets Steiner into the ropes but Steiner switches positions with him as Savage uses the referee as a shield. Steiner gets Savage in the mount but Savage gets out of it and into the ropes. Savage goes outside the ring and jaws at Steiner and the referee before returning, they tie-up and Savage nails Steiner with a lariat. They collide again with apparently Steiner getting the worse of it and Savage applies a headlock. Steiner slams his way out of it and he hits a belly to belly suplex for a two count. Irish whip by Steiner and he hits the Steiner-Line. Cover, but it gets a two count. Savage punches Steiner back and rubs his face across the top rope. Reverse chinlock by Savage and he chokes Steiner against the ropes. Savage picks up Steiner and punches him in the head before hitting an elbow. Steiner snaps off a release German suplex and he hits a second one. Steiner grabs Savage and hits a third German suplex, he goes up to the second turnbuckle and he hits a bulldog for a two count.
Savage hits a low blow on Steiner and he throws him out to the ramp. Scoop slam by Savage on the ramp and he hits a standing elbow drop. Another scoop slam by Savage and he hits another elbow drop. Savage punches Steiner down to the floor, and Steiner crawls back into the ring. Savage brings a chair in the ring and he hits Steiner with it. Savage goes up to the top turnbuckle and he nails the diving elbow drop, but Steiner gets a shoulder up. Savage throws the referee out to the ramp and slaps him in the face. Savage gets back in with the chair but Steiner knocks him down with a Steiner-Line. DDT onto the chair by Steiner, he goes up to the top turnbuckle but he loses his balance and falls to the floor. Savage realizes what happens, he pulls Steiner back into the ring and Steiner hits a low blow. He goes up top again and this time he hits the diving bulldog, picking up the three count pinfall. This wasn’t a good match, to be blunt. Both were acting heelish and obviously by this point were well past their prime so they were more ‘characters’ than anything else. But there was a lot of stalling, and then they botched the ending which made Savage look silly (not his fault, just the way the spot worked). Not really a good way for Savage to go out but wrestling in front of over 60,000 people is never a bad thing. *1/2
Randy Savage’s match against Rick Steiner was the last recorded singles match of his career. It was an odd ending, but Savage had been winding down in WCW after he had two knee surgeries in 1998 as he just wasn’t the same wrestler anymore. While it is a shame he did not have a big final match in WCW, wrestling at the Tokyo Dome isn’t too shabby of a way to go out (he had one match in TNA, but it was a multi-tag match that he did very little in). Savage’s run in Japan showed that no matter what country he was in, he brought everything he had 100% of the time. Just in this selection of matches we saw him bleed, dive off the top rope to the floor multiple times, take big bumps, get knocked around by Tenryu, and everything else you would expect to see from Savage. Randy Savage is a true legend and his matches in Japan just show that he was a great and entertaining wrestler wherever he went.